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Atheist lashes out, calls court system “a joke”

Wednesday, Jan 23, 2013

* Illinois’ top atheist “activist” Rob Sherman lost another and likely final round yesterday in his attempt to overturn a $20,000 state grant to renovate a huge cross in southern Illinois, known as the “Bald Knob Cross of Peace.” Lower courts had already ruled against Sherman, and the US Supreme Court rejected his appeal this week

Sherman sued in August 2010, arguing that efforts to repair the cross using state money have “the primary effect of advancing a particular religious sect, namely Christianity.” He noted that the grant came from a $5 million pot of money that the state Legislature channeled to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

Sherman insisted that the grant was a legislative earmark - not a discretionary allocation from the executive branch - and therefore violated the First Amendment’s prohibition against the establishment of religion.

“This action by the Supreme Court affirms that our nation’s court system is a joke,” Sherman said in a statement. The high court’s “refusal to take my case means that any legislative (body), whether it be Congress, a state legislature or a municipal board, can make blatantly unconstitutional grants to advance religion simply by naming an executive branch agency as a middleman in the transaction.

“What a joke! What a fraud against the taxpayers of this country.”

Well, if the nation’s court system is such a “joke” then maybe Sherman will stop suing at the drop of a hat.

* Look, Sherman has made some valid points over the years. Our own state Constitution is pretty darned clear on the matter

No person shall be required to attend or support any ministry or place of worship against his consent, nor shall any preference be given by law to any religious denomination or mode of worship. […]

Neither the General Assembly nor any county, city, town, township, school district, or other public corporation, shall ever make any appropriation or pay from any public fund whatever, anything in aid of any church or sectarian purpose, or to help support or sustain any school, academy, seminary, college, university, or other literary or scientific institution, controlled by any church or sectarian denomination whatever; nor shall any grant or donation of land, money, or other personal property ever be made by the State, or any such public corporation, to any church, or for any sectarian purpose.

But since the cross is a tourist destination and doesn’t necessarily serve as a “place of worship” or a “sectarian purpose,” then it’s OK, I suppose.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


36 Comments
  1. - Cincinnatus - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 12:48 pm:

    Rich said,

    “But since the cross is a tourist destination and doesn’t necessarily serve as a “place of worship” or a “sectarian purpose,” then it’s OK, I suppose.”

    Auditioning for SCOTUS?


  2. - Demoralized - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 12:55 pm:

    There is always a balancing act that has to occur when you are talking about government and religion. I’m pretty adamant when it comes to keeping the two separate. But in this case I don’t think it’s remotely a close call. The money in no way supported any religious purpose. Plus, there was no way in heck the Supreme Court was going to involve itself in such a petty state matter as this one.


  3. - Question - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 12:55 pm:

    Why is activist in quotes?


  4. - Demoralized - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 12:57 pm:

    Also, and maybe I should be quiet here, Mr. Sherman does know that the state provides some money to religious schools to purchase textbooks (albeit with a limitation on the purchase of religous textbooks) and also provides funding for the transportation of kids to religious schools if the school districts offer that.


  5. - Bigtwich - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 12:58 pm:

    Actually it has served as a place of worship. On Easters past at least. But, Rob should have known he did not have a prayer.


  6. - Chevy owner/Ford County - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 1:01 pm:

    You know, as a Christian, I’m not exactly thrilled at the prospect of the Cross, the very symbol of Christianity, being found by courts to not serve a “sectarian purpose”, and if it means forgoing the money associated with being deemed anything other than a faithful representation of Christianity, then by all means, let the money go….


  7. - Anon - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 1:05 pm:

    I fully agree with the suit.

    I would just LOVE to see the response from Christians if state money was going to renovate a giant Islamic Crescent symbol.

    I’m just going to assume the rhetoric would be a bit different.


  8. - qaz - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 1:08 pm:

    Bill Maher had an interesting article pointing out that 12% of the population now identifies themselves as non-religious and that constitutes a significant voting block. Maybe some of those politicians should give a second thought to mindless pandering to religion such as appropriating money for a blatantly religious symbol. Rob Sherman may be abrasive but his views are shared by many.


  9. - Dirty Red - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 1:13 pm:

    If this were the giant white cross in Effingham along I-57, maybe Sherman would have had more of a case. There aren’t cabins, stables, and wineries around the base of that structure.


  10. - Levois - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 1:23 pm:

    Didn’t Sherman leave the country?


  11. - Formerly Known As... - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 1:26 pm:

    === Why is activist in quotes? ===

    Because in this case, they should be.


  12. - Small Town Liberal - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 1:35 pm:

    You know, I’m pretty much not religious at all, and I really don’t want taxpayer money going to advance any religious ideology. That said, do we use taxpayer money to maintain Native American structures that might be deemed religious? Any other historic landmarks that have religious affiliation? I don’t know that this cross would classify as a historic landmark at this point, but what’s the big deal?


  13. - veritas - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 1:45 pm:

    Let’s restate the proponents’ argument in its most basic form: I want to use your money to help renovate a large, christian religious symbol. I understand that it probably runs counter to the spirit and the letter of the law, but since I’m in the majority and the courts are unwilling to take a stand, what are you gonna do?


  14. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 1:47 pm:

    Meh, I’m a little more concerned about DCEO slush funds. Some very expensive press releases for governors come out of that department.

    State funds have gone to renovate historic churches. The state’s been pouring money into Wright’s Unity Temple, which has been falling down since it was completed in 1908.

    Flat roof after flat roof, constructed from reinforced concrete, with Midwestern freeze, thaw and rain…

    What could possibly go wrong?


  15. - I don't want to live in Teabagistan - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 1:55 pm:

    Steve Dahl and Garry Meier used to play an interview with Sherman and his then young son where Sherman asked his son what they were, the son didn’t answer, Sherman said “it starts with and “a”" and his son answered “—holes”.

    Classic. Sherman is to Atheism what Dr. Kervorkian was to euthanasia: first and foremost a propagandist.


  16. - jaranath - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 2:18 pm:

    “The money in no way supported any religious purpose.”

    You’re right, I can’t think of anything religious about a cross. Nothing whatsoever.

    Look, I agree with Veritas: This is about assumed privilege and social deference, and either the courts or the law are wrong to allow it. But I also agree with Teabagistan above, Sherman is an odd duck and arguably not the best figurehead to represent nonbelievers and supporters of the establishment clause.

    I won’t even say the suit was wrong, but I don’t think this course of action–suits over petty infractions–is going to accomplish the ultimate goal of getting the public and government to take separation seriously. I’m really not sure what will, though. Sometimes I worry that we may well have to learn it the hard way, but then I remember the statistical trends in American beliefs and I feel better.


  17. - iThink - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 2:33 pm:

    The idea that we have $20K of pork going to this while we owe bills 6-12 months out is outrageous.

    Although I disagree with the court’s decision isn’t really the point - I thought the state was broke? Where are they getting this money?


  18. - Downstate Illinois - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 2:58 pm:

    The name is actually the Bald Knob Cross of Peace, which makes it the largest peace monument in Illinois. According to the founder Wayman Presley, one of the purposes of the monument is anti-communism as it was built during the Cold War. It’s also one of the oldest man-made tourist attractions in Southern Illinois, and although Presley would be aghast that there’s a winery on the way up to the top of Bald Knob (when the cross was built neighboring Alto Pass was dry, and remained dry until Alto Vineywards opened in the 1980s), the tourism promoter in him would definitely like the benefits of all the tourism on Bald Knob and in the immediate area.


  19. - Arthur Andersen - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 3:11 pm:

    word, I agree with you about the DCEO walkin’ around money pots.
    Also have to point out that the “flat roof, …concrete…” etc. has been the preferred architectural “design” for many a State facility since time immemorial.


  20. - NIref - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 3:15 pm:

    The big question is: How do I convince people to fork over money as effectively as this guy? Someone has to be bankrolling this.

    Super-PAC “Fund NIref’s PhD” is open for business.


  21. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 3:16 pm:

    ===Someone has to be bankrolling this.===

    Inheritance.


  22. - D.P. Gumby - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 3:25 pm:

    Originally the Bald Knob Cross was also used as an observation tower for fire spotting in the Shawnee Forest as it was the tallest spot. I don’t know if it is still used for that. But that secular purpose would be an additional negation of it as a purely religious symbol.


  23. - Sgtstu - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 3:27 pm:

    iThink - “Where are they getting this money?”

    My retirement fund ?


  24. - thechampaignlife - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 3:40 pm:

    Is it a cross or just a plus (+) sign with a long tail? Is a crescent moon a Muslim symbol or just an astronomy image?

    In the end, we should be more concerned with the frivolous waste of taxpayer dollars regardless of any religious connotation.


  25. - jaranath - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 3:44 pm:

    Perhaps I’m missing the bigger picture here. After all, if money and multi-use make it all ok, there’s a missed opportunity here for profit. And per that IT editorial a few weeks back, a little competition and controversy does wonders for religious tourism; just look at the Holy Land!

    Opening in 2015: The Bald Knob Crescent of Peace, Navigational Aid and Fire Observation Tower! Reserve your tour timeslot today!


  26. - Third Reading - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 3:44 pm:

    It appears that Mr. Sherman filed his petition for a writ of certiorari on a pro se basis - that is, as a non-lawyer representing himself. http://robsherman.com/news/briefs/BaldKnobSupremeCourt120904.pdf

    Perhaps therein lies the joke.

    I’m outta here.


  27. - State Worker - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 4:29 pm:

    Religion aside. The state says it is broke. Claims it cannot pay its employees what is contractually owed. Claims it cannot pay retirement benefits which are constitutionally protected. But, we can spend state money on something that is this unnecessary? Come on!


  28. - Responsa - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 4:34 pm:

    At a seminar recently I was able to make the acquaintance of a very nice couple who were raised in a church but are now consciously and pointedly and openly non-religious. They call themselves atheists but much prefer the term humanists. They seem to be very much live and let live people. Their opinion of the Sherman family and Rob in particular is not printable here. They see him as a narcissistic publicity hound, and believe he has damaged the image of the humanist/atheist movement beyond measure. They mentioned how irritating it is to them that Sherman always seems to be the public face of atheism and the media’s sole “go to” guy for angry atheist quotes in much the same way Jesse Jackson has been the predictable spokesman and “go to” guy for juicy quotes on things racial for decades.


  29. - jaranath - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 4:36 pm:

    State Worker:

    I basically agree but keep in mind DCEO gets a lot of pass-through funding and other “weird” money that can’t really be spent on general State operations. I dunno if that’s where this money came from, but just FYI, they’re could be getting dinged for spending “State money” on things when they aren’t.


  30. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 4:36 pm:

    —word, I agree with you about the DCEO walkin’ around money pots.
    Also have to point out that the “flat roof, …concrete…” etc. has been the preferred architectural “design” for many a State facility since time immemorial.–

    AA, lol, can you believe it?

    I’m no architect or engineer, but unless you’re in the desert, I think a slanted roof that allows moisture to run off is a good idea.

    Unity Temple is the young Wright’s first commercial property, 1908.

    The dude was a designer way before his time, but he was no engineer with the tools of his time.


  31. - WazUp - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 5:07 pm:

    Rob Sherman should study history he’d freak out over this one:

    As president, James Madison signed a federal bill that gave financial aid to a Bible Society for the mass distribution of Bibles, and he also issued several proclamations for national days of prayer, fasting, and thanksgiving.and while president, approved several measures assigning federal financial aid for Christian Missionaries to the Indians, and signed three separate laws to appropriate government land, again, for the use of Christian Missionaries to evangelize Indians.


  32. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 5:10 pm:

    “When asked about his future plans, and if he will continue the fight, Robert Sherman, taking a moment to think said, ‘Good Lord Willing’ …”


  33. - VanillaMan - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 6:06 pm:

    An agnostic is a cynic unconvinced about the existence of God, while an atheist is convinced God doesn’t exist and insults anyone who doesn’t agree.

    Hence Sherman’s hate.


  34. - DuPage Dave - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 6:20 pm:

    If $20,000 in state funds was being used on an Islamic symbol rather than a Christian symbol, you would hear the screams of objection all the way to Texas.

    Sherman is a public nuisance but he’s right in this case. The cross promotes Christianity as sure as can be.


  35. - VanillaMan - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 9:27 pm:

    ==The cross promotes Christianity as sure as can be.==

    It is a symbol that thumbs it’s nose at death. It promotes an idea that death isn’t final. Thats bigger than any church. It is a human belief that transcends religion. Whether it is a crescent or a cross, thoughtful minds recognize the bigger statement of the symbol, than people who do not. Like pitiful atheists, for example.

    No promotion. Just a thumb directly in the eye of the Grim Reaper. It is a decent thing to do. Finding that objectionable is petty and small.


  36. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 9:34 pm:

    –It is a symbol that thumbs it’s nose at death. It promotes an idea that death isn’t final. Thats bigger than any church. It is a human belief that transcends religion–

    No, the cross is Christian. C’mon man. It is what it is.


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